Dropping the Irrational Commitment to Effort

Jason Langdon

Senior Vice President

October 15, 2020

Co-written by Gil Rogers, Executive Vice President, PlatformQ Education


Take a breath.

What are we even doing? Why are we doing this to our staff and our students?

In April 2020 everything was thrown for a loop when in-person events were cancelled seemingly overnight. However, because we had “all hands-on deck” to quickly move our in-person admitted student programs online, engagement continued in many creative ways. Some people used social media streaming; some patched things together using a combination of office communication tools like Zoom or Webex. Many institutions understood that virtual college events are more than just a “go live” button and integrated RNL Online Engagement powered by Conduit into their overall recruitment plans. Either way, we made it through and did our best to survive. In fact, many programs were very well attended (programs run on Conduit saw as high as 10X attendance when compared to 2019), due in large part to the phase of the recruitment cycle we were in.

Over the summer, the team at PlatformQ Education hosted two groundbreaking webcasts. “Farewell, Fall Travel?” featured panelists from a variety of institutions all saying the same thing … The lessons we learned in the spring need to be applied this fall. Mainly; we cannot duplicate in-person programs online in the same way and expect great results.

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Early in the fall the “Into the Unknown” panel spoke candidly about how in-person programs cannot be duplicated online and how institutions need to think differently about content planning in a virtual world. The panel cautioned against trying to duplicate traditional programs like college fairs and individual high school visits. They understood that this path would lead to redundant tasks when technology should allow outreach to scale.

What have we as an industry decided to do? We scrambled to assemble virtual college fairs and set up as many 1:1 visits with high schools as possible. Why? Because of the optics of effort.

Traditional effort and expected outcomes

In the past, admissions staff have become accustomed to a heavy workload. Visiting five high schools a day and representing the institution at a college fair at night Monday through Friday and returning to campus to host visitors or larger events on the weekends and holidays were not out of the ordinary. Weekends and holidays made sense as this made the staff available for parents and students who are visiting campuses around their work and school schedules.

The new college recruitment process

The COVID-19 pandemic, and all of the lessons learned from spring 2020, had the potential to change our perspective when it comes to traditional events versus online … maybe forever. However, what we’ve seen thus far is a proliferation of repetitive programs with the intent of grasping onto as many traditional in person experiences as possible. While there are many examples of virtual college events with positive outcomes; unfortunately, we know that we cannot simply add “virtual” to the beginning of something and expect it to work the same way. It takes thoughtful planning and marketing to create a truly impactful virtual experience.

Avoid the “irrational effort” trap

Arrows showing the irrational effort trap when it comes to virtual college events.

Why have we typically hosted campus visit days around weekends and holidays? Why are college fairs in the evenings? One of the main drivers of the timing of these activities is that parents are often more flexible with work schedules and students are out of school. This enables them to plan the trip and you to have their undivided attention.

In a virtual world this isn’t the case. In fact, hosting events on holidays is problematic because live attendance is so unpredictable. Imagine being a presenter that dedicates their Indigenous People’s Day to being available for a virtual session only to have no one join. It’s not that hard to imagine as this is what’s currently happening every day with countless zoom high school visits and virtual fairs. Of course, we write these poorly performing initiatives off as “we have to do it to show effort” or we say, “the high school counselors will not be happy if we don’t host a virtual visit dedicated to their school.”

This is false.

If you host a virtual information session and no one attends, did you actually host a virtual information session? Rather than duplicating 150 high school visits and 80 college fairs in your territory we should be focusing on fewer, bigger, and better programs that support students with content that is meaningful and supports them throughout their search and selection process. There are of course critical places for 1:1 interactions in the recruitment process. The admissions business is still a people business and always will be. What’s evolved is the how, when, where and why students connect with admissions officers and other key representatives of the institution.

It’s not too late to pivot

One of the opportunities afforded us as enrollment managers is the reality that, in a heavily virtual world, we can tweak our strategies frequently based on new information. It’s oftentimes impossible to cancel physical programs that are pre-booked because of deposits on venues, catering orders and physical materials that are produced and sent.

RNL Online Engagement, powered by Conduit, allows you to be more flexible while thinking strategically about your plans based on engagement metrics you are seeing with your identified student audiences. While it’s important to nail down program plans in advance to ensure your staff is prepared and content is marketed effectively, virtual events can always be shortened, rescheduled, switched from live to pre-recorded and simulated live, or cancelled altogether if we determine that a program isn’t effective. How often have we ever cancelled an initiative mid-stream because data showed it wasn’t working? Never.

If you find yourself lost in endless poorly attended virtual fairs and zoom meetings, the time to pivot your strategy to continuous and consistent engagement and content is now … before you miss your critical application completion and yield season.

See what a platform like RNL Online Engagement can do for engaging more students online and saving your sanity. Click here to schedule a free walkthrough.

About the Author

Jason Langdon

Jason Langdon leads RNL's undergraduate enrollment team of sales consultants. He has more than 25 years of higher education enrollment experience at both private and public campuses across the country. His particular areas of expertise...

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